Pain, suffering and forgiveness came together in the symbolic petri dish of life and cultured the success of one of today’s most popular and highest rated leadership podcasts, The School of Greatness, and the career of its creator Lewis Howes. The second speaker to present at the Memphis Grizzlies Keynote Speaker Series, this New York Times bestselling author captured the audience’s attention not by divulging a set of mantras guaranteeing personal and professional success but by diving into his past and with a raw vulnerability sharing how brokenness (in both the literal and figurative sense) led to his building of several multi-million dollar enterprises.
A former All-American football player, it was during the year and a half he spent recovering from a career-ending broken wrist that Howes began talking to and learning from leaders about their paths to greatness. He believed that life’s biggest lessons were taught outside of the confines of a classroom and says he realized early on “I didn’t have the tools to learn the way school taught me,” (partly because of his dyslexia.) He maintained a mental rolodex of all that was shared with him by these leaders and would eventually find the perfect place in which they could be archived- a podcast. But not before he endured another round of pain and suffering.
“The School of Greatness was created out of pain and suffering.”
Howes explains that the idea for his hugely successful podcast came about while he was sitting in traffic on a freeway in Los Angeles, after having moved there “for a girl.” Almost immediately following his move, “the girl” broke up with him. As I listened to him discuss the importance of forgiveness in the evolution of what would become a multi-million dollar business, I learned it wasn’t just a California heartbreak from which he had to heal but also the heartbreak from a life forever changed by a most egregious violation he endured as a child: being raped by his babysitter’s son at five years old. Howes spoke candidly about the day his life became broken and the day forgiveness enabled him to piece it back together: “Thirty years of my life I was my worst enemy. When I finally forgave all of the people [who hurt me] including myself, it ended.”
He jokingly explains to several business leaders in attendance, affectionately referred to as The Suits, that he fully understands they are there to learn about how to grow a business and, if his anecdotes thus far don’t lend themselves to that growth, the forthcoming segment undoubtedly will. It is time to explore the Five Keys to Greatness and we, the audience members, do so by pairing up with someone we don’t know and digging within to expose our truths. For Howes, I’ve come to understand, growth and greatness cannot be achieved without the risk of vulnerability- the same risk he takes every time he tells another stranger of the once secret suffering that fractured life as he knew it. The risk we now all take in sharing truth. Part of my truth is that chronic fears and areas of considered failures are countered by the love of friends and family members who continue to hold me up in the face of these daily uncertainties. Because of this, I clearly see that the first two keys to greatness, gratitude (1) and growth (2), are tied to each other and cannot exist without one another. Here are all five Keys to Greatness:
As the session draws to an end one of the audience members, and devoted listener of The School of Greatness, asks Howes to share his truths. He explains that on any given occasion his truths may vary- then gives us three. His first truth is, “Your dreams matter because you matter so always follow your dreams. Life without dreams is a sad life.” His second truth is actually a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, adopted by many other leaders over the years: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Before sharing his third truth, he pauses. We wait in complete silence while Howes seemingly decides on this final, hence crucial, truth to share with us: “The most important thing is health; emotional, physical, mental.”
Which brings me back to the pain, suffering and forgiveness Howes had to both endure and embrace so that he could stand in front of an audience of complete strangers and explain how something meant for our harm can end up cultivating an environment of good and how a life can be restored to great health after being battered almost beyond recognition. Howes was broken in so many places, in so many ways, yet it is out of that brokenness that he is accomplishing what is now being done and almost certainly is saving lives (and businesses!) in doing so.